WASHINGTON (CN) — The government’s decision to call Michael Sussmann’s former colleague to the stand may have backfired after longtime Democrat-backed attorney Marc Elias told jurors on Wednesday that he never directed Sussmann to bring allegations of Trump-Russia collusion to the FBI because it would not have benefitted their client: Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Prosecutors are trying to convince a federal jury in Washington that Sussmann — who was working at Perkins Coie law firm as legal counsel for both the Clinton campaign and cybersecurity expert Rodney Joffe in 2016 — was in cahoots with the firm and the campaign as part of an effort to unleash an October Surprise on Trump.
They claim he took records of alleged secret communications between Trump and Russia’s Alfa Bank to a New York Times reporter — but the reporter held off on publishing — so Sussmann took the records to the FBI hoping that the bureau would launch an investigation, which would prompt the NYT reporter and other news outlets to run a story on the allegations.
But Elias, who worked with Sussmann at Perkins Coie, dealt a huge blow on Wednesday to the government’s main argument that Sussmann was representing the campaign when he gave the records to James Baker, who was the FBI’s top lawyer at the time.
Elias told the jury neither he nor the campaign directed Sussmann to bring the records to the bureau.
“I think my sense was that the FBI was not — for a variety of reasons — going to do anything that was going to … stop bad things from happening, which would be one reason to go to the FBI,” he said.
He added that, at the time, then-FBI Director James Comey had taken public stances that were “unfair and putting a thumb on the scale against” Clinton, so he did not think the FBI would give a “fair shake” to anything they viewed as anti-Trump or pro-Clinton.
And the goal was to get the NYT to run a story on it and if the FBI gets involved, he said “any number of things could stop that from happening.”
Asked if he thought Sussmann would have checked with him if he was planning on taking the records to the FBI on behalf of the campaign, Elias said, “sure.”
After hours of testimony from Elias, the government called Baker to the witness stand to testify.
Prosecutor Andrew DeFillipis brought up Sussmann’s Sept. 18, 2016, text to Baker in which he said that he urgently needed to share “sensitive” information with the FBI “not on behalf of a client or company,” and that he “want[s] to help the Bureau.”
DeFillipis asked why Baker had only turned over the text message to the government in March when he was asked by Special Counsel John Durham to look for any communications he had with Sussmann.
“Frankly, like I am not out to get Michael and this is not my investigation, this is your investigation,” Baker said. “So, if you ask me a question, I answer it.”
Earlier on Wednesday, jurors also heard testimony from Debbie Fine, a former Perkins Coie attorney who testified that she did not send journalists any opposition research being conducted by the campaign or Joffe.
“I do not recall ever sharing [opposition] research with the media,” Fine said.
Meanwhile, a former researcher for Fusion GPS, the company hired by the Clinton campaign to conduct political disinformation research against Trump, testified afterward about meeting with a journalist to discuss the Trump-Alfa allegations, which she thought would be a “big” story.
“I thought it was a matter of national security if a Russian bank was interfering in our elections,” she said.
Sussmann has pleaded not guilty to a single charge of making a false statement to the FBI. His attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper to dismiss the case in March, but he allowed it to proceed to trial.
Sussmann resigned from his position at law firm Perkins Coie after being indicted last September. If convicted, he faces up to five years behind bars.
Prosecutors are expected to resume direct examination of Baker on Wednesday. But Sussmann’s legal team signaled that they may move for a mistrial, which U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, an Obama appointee, said he was “not inclined to declare.”
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